|Here ya go, watching Netflix while plowing <ggg>... The farmer cracked me up when he said 'you want an unlimited data plan'..|
Farmers Plow Through Netflix While Plowing FieldsLong days of planting are also good for binge-watching ‘The Office’ from comfy tractor cabs
Farmer Aaron Newell in the cab of his tractor on his farm near Fort Dodge, Iowa. RACHEL MUMMEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 10, 2019 1:13 p.m. ET
After kissing his three children good-night this spring, Aaron Newell settled in to binge-watch the “Avengers” movies ahead of the franchise’s new theater release, “Avengers: Endgame.”
Mr. Newell’s home theater—equipped with a stereo sound system and an ergonomically designed chair—sits inside a five-by-five foot soundproofed cab above roughly 30,000 pounds of rumbling machinery, crawling over fields on massive caterpillar tracks.
Best seat in the house
For rural Midwesterners like Mr. Newell, springtime now means two things: Netflix and farm.
“People think I’m crazy, but I look forward to it,” Mr. Newell, 35, said of planting-season hours on his farm that can begin before dawn and stretch past midnight.
Mr. Newell, who plowed through all six seasons of Netflix’s “House of Cards” while tilling his fields near Callender, Iowa, last fall, said he would farm with or without modern conveniences. But glancing over at “The Wolf of Wall Street” or the “Star Wars” series on a cabin-mounted iPad makes long days go by faster, he said. “If it was dead silence for 12 to 13 hours, that might be a different issue.”
Thanks to GPS-enabled guidance systems and high-speed planters, U.S. farmers can plant and harvest fields faster than ever before, often with minimal human involvement. Self-steering tractors and combines free farmers to monitor seeding rates, haggle on the phone over crop sales, watch the weather—and get bored.
Expanding cellular signal coverage and streaming video apps have helped some farmers to convert these mobile offices into after-hours living rooms on wheels, complete with climate control, leather upholstery and built-in refrigerators. In recent years, massage seats have become available.
“I love farming, but when you’re going back and forth on 200 to 300 acres, that’s a lot of going back and forth with not a lot of change of scenery,” said Matt Barnard, 40, who raises corn and soybeans near Foosland, Ill.
With a limited window to sow the year’s crop and thousands of acres to cover, 18-hour days are the springtime norm for many farmers. Moving at 6 to 10 miles an hour, 10 minutes can pass on a big field before farmers have to take the wheel to make a turn.
Mr. Barnard, who last year watched eight seasons of “Shameless,” said he didn’t have a Netflix subscription until he started farming full-time about seven years ago. Since his tractor’s already outfitted with wireless-enabled devices and monitors, he said, “it’s too tempting not to.”
During planting and harvest seasons, farmers can spend 18 hours a day in their tractor and combine cabs. PHOTO:JOHN DEERE
Binge-watching while farming can be tricky. Movies and shows with complex plotlines get hard to follow when farmers have to hit pause to yank out a rock from the soil or refill a planter with seed. Since modern farm machinery often uploads several gigs’ worth of data on seeding and soil conditions to remote servers a day, heavy Hulu and Netflix use can seriously swell farmers’ data bills.
“You want an unlimited data plan,” Mr. Barnard said.
Cinephile farmers acknowledge that their pastime skews toward a younger, more tech-savvy farmer. But they reject the idea that they’re soft. While auto-steering machinery and high-tech planting equipment let them take their hands off the wheel and avoid spending half the day twisting to peer out the rear window, they say they work long hours for weeks at a stretch and do plenty of multitasking from the tractor seat.
Paul Butler, 52, regularly texts and video chats with land owners and farmer friends while he farms corn and soybeans near Macon, Ill. Beyond his farm, he also works as a software development manager, and sometimes joins videoconferences from the field. As the hours wear on, and the weather radio updates become repetitive, Mr. Butler will turn on comedies like Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet,” about a real-estate agent who turns into a zombie.
“Looking away for 30 seconds or a minute [in a field] is not like driving down the road, you’re not going to get in an accident,” he said. “Distracted farming is pretty common.”
Paul Butler's screen setup on his tractor. PHOTO: JULIA BUTLER
Tractor and combine manufacturers cater to seatbound farmers, some of whom will pack a half-dozen monitors, tablets and laptops into their cabs to track tractor performance, seeding rates, and field conditions. New models sport multiple power and USB outlets, plus vibration-deadening seats that smooth the ride across bumpy fields. The latest tractors can cost $250,000 or more, while combines can fetch $500,000 and up.
“We have worked very hard to make sure that comfort isn’t a reason a farmer has to stop,” said Deere & Co.’s Deanna Kovar, who oversees operator stations for the tractor maker. But farmers dream of more.
Ms. Kovar said some farmers have requested in-cab microwaves to heat their lunch. Eric Jacobsthal, industrial design manager for farm-equipment company CNH Industrial, said he’s seen coffee makers plugged into in-cab outlets.
Some tractor makers warn farmers against kicking back too much. “We encourage our customers to operate our vehicles in a safe manner, and use our products in a manner that is not distracted and keep their focus on the field in front of them,” said a spokeswoman for Agco Corp., a Georgia-based farm machinery company.
Cory Ritter sometimes puts on “The Office” or “The West Wing” as he farms near Blue Mound, Ill. Often, though, he breaks the monotony of staring at his own fields by watching other farmers tend theirs, via live feeds on Facebook or videos posted to YouTube.
“I want to know how planting progress is going, is their crop under stress, is it looking good,” said Mr. Ritter, 38. Sometimes he watches South American farmers’ feeds to get a read on rival crops, and out of curiosity he browses videos of farmers in far-off places raising rice and potatoes.
The streaming video revolution hasn’t swept every farm.
Don Loeslie, 80, said he was 9 years old when his dad got him started driving a combine on the family’s northwestern Minnesota farm. For decades, Mr. Loeslie said, he was too busy steering and checking the planter behind the tractor to get bored—though when he got his first in-tractor radio about 50 years ago, “we thought we died and went to heaven.”
Since then, Mr. Loeslie said he has come to appreciate self-steering tractors, which use satellite-assisted guidance systems to avoid overlap when planting and spraying crops, helping farmers save money. But he has yet to put on any movies or TV shows.
“I’m still a radio guy,” said Mr. Loeslie, whose tastes lean toward 1950s-era oldies and news. “Sometimes, surprisingly, I just shut it off.”
Aaron Newell’s tricked out tractor. PHOTO: RACHEL MUMMEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL